What is Fracking?
Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing is one of the latest technologies to revolutionize the fossil fuel industry. It is a process whereby wells are drilled deep into the ground and then water, sand and other chemicals are pumped in high volumes and at high pressures to fracture or break rocks that have low porosity like shale. On breaking these rocks, oil and gas are released from inside. These products are then easily collected when they flow to the surface. After collection and processing the fuels are ready to be used wherever possible. Fracking was once considered to be the best option available to non-renewables industry but since last decade there have been some studies associated which have raised questions. This has lead us to discuss the pros and cons of Fracking and we will keep on updating as more research comes up!
Advantages/Pros of Fracking
1. Tackling the Energy Crisis
The biggest greatest advantage of fracking was extraction of gas and oil from resources that have until now remained untouched. It bought energy industry some time before they are forced to switch to renewables because in current times fossil fuel reserves are being exhausted at a tremendous pace and then suddenly we have a new solution that allows us to tap deeper into earth’s core and suck out all available fossils. With the advent of fracking our fossil fuels reserve estimates have increased by quite a significant notch and this means everyone got extra time to tackle looming energy crisis. According to a business information company, IHS, shale gas reserves are estimated to be about 42 trillion cubic meters, which is almost equal to the total natural gas discovered by conventional methods in the United States over the last 150 years and is also roughly 65 times the current U.S. annual consumption.
2. Cheap source of energy
Fracking itself is comparatively cheaper to conventional methods of extraction and combining this with the rules of economics, i.e. increase in supply leads to a decrease in prices, means this can do wonders for many people. Shale gas extracted via fracking has been estimated to be almost 50 to 66% cheaper than the gas extracted via other conventional methods.
3. Clean source of energy
Among all the commonly used fossil fuels, gas produces the least amount of carbon dioxide especially when compared to oil. This means fracking did not just open the doors to any supply but a cleaner and safer supply, relatively. With this in place, countries like USA, that are still majorly dependent on fossils saw an economic boom not only because of access to newer supplies but the fact that now more places were drilled, and thus more people got employed by the industry which brings us to the next big advantage in the fracking industry.
4. More jobs/ Employment opportunities
It has been predicted that fracking will continue to open up more jobs in the near future owing to countries whose economies are directly or indirectly dependent on fossils. And for most of the public in developing countries, it is considered one of the big advantages of Fracking.
Moreover in fracking the wells are dug beneath the groundwater, where the actual process takes place, which makes it difficult for chemical students to leak in upward direction and the extra tubing further reduces the changes of leakage of toxic chemicals. Environmental protection agency after conducting a study concluded in 2011 that fracking does not contaminate water supplies. The water intensity used in the process is also calculated to be 10 times less than the water intensity used in conventional methods and nuclear power plants.
Disadvantages of Fracking:
Though fracking offers many benefits, but it is not as clean as sometimes depicted.
6. Damage to the Landscape and natural resources
Fracking itself is a very complex and sophisticated process which requires a huge capital to get started and also varies with the geology of area where it is to be done. This means that engineering practices and regulations need to be altered on every site, for e.g. composition of deposits and minerals makes the process idiosyncratic, in some sites there is no flow back water but in other sites there is a significant amount of flow back water which then has to be treated externally, and so on.
7. Very toxic chemicals are used in Fracking:
Along with this sophistication is the huge list of toxic chemicals which are used to induce fractures and this no doubt one of the worse disadvantages. These chemicals had been hidden under the laws of trade secrets but now that regulations have changed and chemicals named, it raises many questions because there are over 650 carcinogens being used like formaldehyde, lead, etc. Except for these chemicals even methane which is extracted often leaks out into the environment leading to not accidents but to also increase in climate change. Studies gave noted 3.6 to 7.9% methane leakages in the whole process. This is one of the most dangerous disadvantages of Fracking.
Read more about the Toxic Chemicals used in Fracking.
8. Can Cause Earthquakes
Fracking has been found to not only induce fractures in rocks but also induce earthquakes. Since the advent of fracking it has been reported that the number of earthquakes in USA have increased four times and the severity of those have been increasing on Richter scale with recent ones recorded as high as 5.6.
9. Water Contamination
Although it was said that water supplies are not contaminated but new research has shown that methane and chemicals which can leak lead to contamination of nearby drinking water supplies. Methane especially when enters any water source makes it flammable, which has also blown out several wells to date. Along with air and water pollution there is also noise pollution because of the heavy machines used on site and the whole process of drilling and extraction happens day and night continuing for several years, which means communities nearby have to face huge problems.
10. Highly Unsustainable
We have previously seen that fracking uses less water as compared to other conventional methods, but the devil is in details. The water intensity of fracking is lower than other methods, but it makes up the largest component of the process with around 8 million gallons being used in one well over its lifetime. The bigger issue here is that while water used by other process is eventually returned to normal water cycle, but the water used for fracking is permanently disposed, that makes fracking highly unsustainable and dangerous to environment and society especially in these times when water crisis is on the rise with a few cities already having run out of water. Some may argue that there is also flow back of water but that is also very variable and is laden with many chemicals which then require treatment to be used by residents.
11. We Depend on Fracking more than we should
One of the goals of fracking was to make it smoother to transition from renewable to non-renewable resources but it seems the plan is backfiring. With new cheaper supplies, dependency of other industries on shale gas has been increasing and need for research into alternative and cleaner means has been decreasing drastically. This is an alarming situation with the increasing climate changes and continuing on this track will mean suicide for our Earth.
Conclusion to Fracking
Seeing both the pros and cons of Fracking leads to a simple conclusion; Fracking no doubt promises many substantial benefits but at a tremendous cost which we did not anticipate until recently. Now with newer studies emerging it seems we may have made many mistakes in the past especially in our laws and regulations which may have led to degradation of many communities. We’d love to hear about your thoughts regarding fracking in the comments below!